5 Takeaways From CNN’s Study on 13-Year-Olds


CNN just aired a documentary on #Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens. The show revealed findings of a study of more than 200 eighth graders and their use of social media. After reviewing more than 150,000 social media posts collected from the students’ social media sites, the study revealed these findings:

1. Teens are on smartphones and tablets constantly.

It’s not unusual for teens to check their devices more than 100 times a day. Whether at school, home, or at an afterschool activity, social media is a constant companion and source of instant access to the online lives of their friends and peers.

2. Social media is a source of anxiety for many teens.

Rather than being on social media to share good things that were going on in their lives, the majority of those in the study said they were checking their social media sites to make sure no one was saying bad things about them and to check their status. Were their posts getting “likes”? Are their friends doing things without them? Are people saying bad things about them?

3. Rather than posting, many teens are lurking.

About 1/3 of those in the study said they spend a large portion of their time studying their friends’ and peers’ social media sites to figure out where they stand in the social pecking order. They look to see who is in and who is out, whose popularity in growing and whose is waning. On the CNN show, many of the teens said one bad post or picture could ruin a person’s reputation.

4. Social media use can be addicting.

The parents and the 13-year-olds on the show all agreed the use of social media is addicting. Before taping the show, the parents were asked to take their children’s phones away. One girl was shown sobbing. A couple of them said they would rather go without food for a week or be grounded than to have their phones taken away.

5. Parents who pay attention to their teens’ online lives erase the negative effects of social media.

Ninety-four percent of parents in the study underestimated the impact that social media was having on their children’s well being. Those parents who were actively engaged in their teens’ online lives were able to help their teens navigate the pluses and minuses of their social media use. When teens knew their parents were monitoring what they were doing, they were far less likely to engage in bullying or sexting or other inappropriate behaviors that are all too common in the social media lives of 13-year-olds.

One other comment from the show stood out. For this generation, their face-to-face lives are the same as their social media lives. There is no distinction.

Beyond the negatives, the study found that teens use social media to show support for one another, to encourage peers when they were going through personal struggles, and to defend one another from people who were saying negative things about their friends.

Questions for Parents and Churches:

1. How are you helping the children and youth in your church engage in face-to-face conversations away from social media?

2. How are you paying attention to the impact of social media on your children or youth?

3. What alternatives to social media do you offer? When do you have children and youth take a break? When do children and youth do an activity without social media?

4.  As an adult, how many of these things are true for you as well? Do you lurk?  Are you constantly comparing your friend’s posting with your real life?  Are you checking your phone over 100 time a day?  Does too much consumption of social media make your anxious?

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age. Go to www.iKidsgen.com for study guides for youth groups and parents.

When Trying to Win it All Fails the iKids: The Little League Fiasco

Tim Corbin, the coach of the Vanderbilt Baseball team, whose team won the college world series last year, made a very interesting comment in an interview he did on 104.5 The Zone. When asked why a high school baseball player should choose to go to college rather than to sign a professional contract and play in the minor leagues, he replied “in college kids can make mistakes, grow from them, and learn from them.”   He went on to add that once you enter professional baseball, if you have a bad year, your career could be over quickly. In college you have a second chance.

Corbin’s comments are worth considering when we look at the world of iKids sports. Today, it was announced that because of cheating, the Chicago Jackie Robinson West Little League Team  has to give up its 2014 national title. It seems the leaders of the league expanded their boundaries to allow them to include more top tier ten, eleven, and twelve year-olds on the team from neighboring leagues.

The real losers in this story are the little leaguers who have now lost their innocence and their pride because of the scheme hatched by the adult leaders of the league to increase their chances at winning. So who’s to blame for this fiasco? Let’s zero on three contributors to this situation.

  • First, goes to ESPN who broadcasts the series and produces a show that at once celebrates the accomplishments of preteens but also exposes them to fame and ridicule in the national spotlight. Rather than playing for fun, today’s little leagues are more focused on making it to the big ball game and developing elite players.
  • Second, goes to the increase of the professionalization of youth sports. Carol Mithers, in an article on “Are Kids’ Sports Too Competitive?’ reports that 30 to 45 million iKids participate in sports each year. As organized sports leagues have become big business she says, youth sports “has changed in troubling ways. Not only are players joining competitive leagues at very young ages, more and more of them are choosing to specialize, focus, and train intensively in only one sport.”
  • Third, goes to parents whom in their desire to help their children succeed, pressure their children to become the next stars. And its not just the parents, throw in coaches who are eager to prove themselves on the ball field and you have an unhealthy pressure to succeed at all costs.

As registration starts for spring sports parents around the country will be signing up their children for baseball, softball, and soccer.   Millions of iKids will hit the fields with youthful enthusiasm and a heartfelt desire to make their parents proud. Its up to the parents, the coaches, and the organizers of these experiences to focus on what is most important, the physical, mental, and spiritual development of the iKids that are under their care.

While winning is an objective that all would like to achieve, learning how to play the game, staying within the bounds of rules, and sportsmanship is something everyone needs to learn. More importantly, Corbin gives us a template to emulate, creating an atmosphere where its okay to make mistakes because those around you – your teammates, your coaches, and your parents are there to pick you up so you can try it again.

iKids and Halloween 1: The Business of Scare

In the spirit of horror movies, this will be a two part series

Scaring people is big business and this year is sure to break records as Halloween is celebrated on Friday, October 31st. This will generate record numbers of parties and trick-or-treaters as Halloween grows in popularity. How big is the business?

The National Retail Association gives us the numbers:

Total Sales of costumes, candy, and decorations: $7.4 billion ($6.9 in 2013)

Children’s Costumes: $1.1 billion (#1 Princess, #2 Animal, #3 Spider-Man, #4 Frozen Character

Adult Costumes: $1.4 billion (#1 Witch, #2 Animal, #3 Batman Character, #4 Pirate

Pet Costumes: $350 million (#1 Pumpkin, #2 Hot Dog, #3 Devil, #4 Bumble Bee)

Percentage of Americans attending a Halloween party: 33.4%
(approximately equal to the number of people who attend worship on a Sunday)

78% of 18-24 year-olds will dress in a costume (73% in 2013)

Perhaps the most interesting number that comes from their data is 33 million Americans will visit a neighborhood haunted house, a Halloween themed zoo, or a haunted theme park. What are people looking for? The more realistic the better. Universal Studios in Orlando gives us a flavor of what is offered. Their Halloween Horror Nights features experiences like, “The Walking Dead”, “Dollhouses of the Damned,” “Giggles and Gore, Inc.”, “Cannibal Colony”, and “Bayou of Blood.”

Why are people, primarily young adults and teens, flocking to these venues? According to The Haunted Attraction Association, in a press release on “The Psychology of Fear Final”, there are four primary reasons people like to be scared:

First, a longing for sensory experience and satisfaction. The adrenaline rush that comes from navigating a maze of zombies in real life rather than on a video game is irresistible to people who long for things that are real.   Using millions of dollars of state-of-the-art special effects, haunted theme creators amp up the sound and the images to create a life-threatening experience.

Second, people desire to experience something outside of the ordinary. John Edward Campbell, Assistant Professor at Temple University, says the pleasure people feel after surviving a scary experience, “provides a cathartic effect, offering you emotional release and escape from the real world of bills and mortgages and the economy and relationships.”

Third, its safe entertainment. While people know they will be frightened to death, intuitively they know they are still safe. So rather than feeling fear, they feel excitement.

Fourth, people are curious. The dark side has always had its appeal and haunted attractions look to fill the bill with the most elaborate experiences they can design.

While young adults and teens find their way to these venues, programs catering to children look to fit the bill by offering specials on TV like “Toy Story of Terror” and the classic “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

The Disney Channel seeks to grab the attention of its young viewers by offering Monstober, a full month of Halloween themed TV shows and movies. Nickelodeon tries to do it one better with Shocktober, which features “Haunting Halloween Specials all month long.”

So brace yourself for the days ahead. Images of ghosts, witches, and screaming victims are sure to fill our imaginations as TV networks and horror venues seek to deliver the most scares per minute whether its on our screens or in a theme park, zoo, or haunted house near you.

So what’s the take away?

American young people are seeking vivid experiences, ones that grab hold of them and tell them they are alive, even if they have to slaughter vampires, kick ghouls, and run through mazes of terror to discover their hearts are still beating.

Coming up next week: iKids & Halloween 2: The Spirituality of Boo.

iKids now Available on Kindle

Cover amazonAfter two years of research, writing, editing, rewriting, and rewriting again, iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age is now available for Kindle at a special promotional price of .99 cents.

iKids Kindle Version

The focus of iKids is how digital media, especially the advent of smartphones and tablets, is affecting the lives of children and young teens born since 2000.  A quote from the book best sums up the importance of this topic:

“The one discovery that most resonated with me was this: We are in the midst of a great experiment. No one knows how the use of techgear and digital media is affecting the mental and social development of iKids. Whether it’s Toys’R’Us selling a line of tablets for four-year-olds or school systems giving children iPads so they can take the Common Core test online or parents giving eight-year-olds smartphones so they can keep track of them when they go to school, the iKids are immersed in a screened-in environment that beckons them at every turn.  The only thing we know for sure is that as our society purchases techgear in record numbers and puts it in the hands of our youngest generation, we are faced with a slew of questions that won’t be answered until iKids are in their twenties and thirties.”    iKids, p. 13.

In iKids I invite you to join me in wrestling with the issues of how we raise this newest generation, one that is pushed and pulled by the forces of technological change.  We will look at how companies like Disney and Apple look for ways to capture iKids to keep them as life long customers.  We will talk about privacy and the importance of one’s identity.  We will discover how gaming is the metaphor for the spiritual life that connects with this generation and we will be challenged to look at how our own use of digital media shapes the lives of our children.

The book itself tells a story of how digital technology is changing the way we interact with media.  The kindle version of iKids includes links to not only the chapters but also to a series of articles that are embedded in the book.  Topics like “So your iKid wants a Phone”, “Who Owns Our Pop Culture?”, and “When Faith Communities Adopt Schools” are just a click away.  Also, URLs to various sites are active as well as hyperlinks to the over 200 footnotes in the book.

I invite you to take a look at iKids: Parenting in the Digital Age and join me in this critical conversation about the future of the iKids Generation.

Craig Kennet Miller


“Miller’s unique navigation through the digital waters surrounding pre-teens and
teenagers today is brilliant. As a pastor of a growing congregation and the father
of two young children, this resource is essential. I highly recommend adding it to
your collection.”
—Olu Brown, pastor of Impact Church in Atlanta, Georgia and author of Zero to 80

“An enlightening look into the world of the newest, techiest generation, iKids is
chock-full of useful tidbits to help parents prevent children from overloading on
too many screens and too much technology. [This book is] an excellent guide for
Christian parents who want to raise their children with the right values.”
—Jean M. Twenge, author of Generation Me and coauthor of The Narcissism Epidemic

“Every parent in America needs a copy of this book. If I were a pastor or staff
member of a church, I would make sure every parent and grandparent had this
book, and I would organize teaching and small-group discussions around it. There
is something to learn on every page—from information to perspective to practical
—Reggie McNeal, author of Get Off Your Donkey: Help Somebody and Help Yourself

“This book is an amazing representation of the children who are entering into
middle school. Miller provides a vocabulary to understand these children and
their experiences, and he provides teachers, parents, pastors, Christian educators
and other leaders in the church ways to give guidance for a deeper spiritual walk
with God.”
—Leigh Meekins, Christian educator and ordained deacon, The United Methodist Church

“I read iKids through the eyes of a grandparent. I am giving a copy to each of my
children to help them practice proactive parenting in an age of techgear and digital
media, and better understand their influence on the mental and social development
of our grandchildren.”
—Mike Slaughter, Senior Pastor of Ginghamsburg Church